“It’s not a comedy, but you can say it’s black humour,” says Romanian director Cristi Puiu on an interview for his affecting second feature. Over 151 minutes, Puiu’s ambulance-driven odyssey follows ailing 62-year-old widower Mr Lazarescu (Ion Fiscuteanu) between Bucharest hospitals on a long, dark night of the soul, colon, liver, brain and much else. En route, he encounters bossy, bickering medical staff, all of whom berate him for boozing and few of whom can or will help. By the close, it’s no wonder “poor pops” can barely speak.
Not funny as such, then, but Death is deadpan, our hero’s purgatorial quest matching absurdism (names to drop: Kafka, Beckett) with allegory (names to note: Dante, Anghel), tragedy with (divine) comedy. Obviously, you know where it’s going. But Puiu’s unflinching tale of human frailty makes one life seem important anyway. It’s long and often languorous – not unlike life – but it keeps you gripped until the big cheerio.